WESTBROOK – A new train station with expanded parking and a new public works facility are a step closer to reality thanks to the unanimous approval of the Connecticut State Bond Commission of a $1.5 million grant at its Jan. 26 meeting.
The Connecticut Office of Policy and Management states funds will “offset the town’s cost to relocate to current Department of Transportation (DOT) property on Route 145 and make the necessary improvements to the garage to fit the town’s use. These funds are necessary to move forward with a property swap between the town and DOT so that DOT can reconstruct the Westbrook Shore Line East Railroad Station.”
The bond money was authorized by legislation passed in June 2005 through the efforts of Democrat Representative Brian O’Connor, 35th District, Republican Representative Marilyn Giuliano, 23rd District, and Democrat Senator Eileen Daily, 33rd District.
Based on recommendations made by the town’s Train Station Ad Hoc Committee in August, the grant will pay for improvements to the garage located on a 3.58 acre parcel on Route 145.
These improvements include removing asbestos material, making heating system and interior improvements, installing a new septic system, installing a water main extension, asphalt paving, new out buildings, fencing, construction of a dog pound building, and a 50 by 100 expansion of the current building.
The town would also receive a sand/salt shed on the site.
While the committee predicted improvements would cost $1.25 million, the grant would allow an additional $250,000 to pay for unexpected costs.
O’Connor said, “This grant award demonstrates the State’s commitment to the Town of Westbrook in helping off-set the costs of the land swap. It is an exciting project that really is a win-win for the State and the Town.”
During the bond commission meeting, Daily, who is the Senate Chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said the proposal for a new train station has been in the works for over a decade.
“In this instance a new First Selectman did not want to go through with the project. The state representative (O’Connor) and I had to go door-to-door to force the petition to force the town meeting,” Daily said.
Westbrook residents approved the land swap at a Sept. 15 meeting by a vote of 113-10.
Supporters said they were concerned about threats that the Westbrook Shoreline East stop could be eliminated if the land swap was not approved since it is one of the only stations along Shoreline East not recently renovated and is not ADA compliant.
They also pointed to an unsafe temporary platform, lack of adequate parking, and sparse exterior lighting.
Opponents expressed concerns about possible unknown contamination on the DOT site and questioned the costs
and benefits the town would experience through the land swap.
Scott Hill, DOT’s Principal Engineer of Facilities Design, told residents that the state would pay to clean and plug up the floor drains in the garage, dispose of 500 cubic yards of dirt containing pollutants, and provide funding for groundwater monitoring of three nearby wells for four years.
Daily said the project will bring a “new railroad station, which will boost the fortunes of the entire downtown, and a new public works garage, which will better serve all Westbrook residents.”
The station is expected to accommodate future growth along the shoreline, help promote mass transit alternatives, and alleviate traffic congestion on Interstate 95.
The new train station, expected to cost the state $10 million, will have architectural elements similar to the Guilford station featuring clapboard siding with brick and ornamental elements such as railings and a cupola, Hill said.
Like Guilford, the station will have a glass-walled pedestrian bridge with two elevators allowing pedestrians to safely access both the north and south sides of the tracks.
Two hundred parking spaces are expected to be built on the south side and thirty spaces on the north side with handicap parking on both sides.
Both sides will feature antique-style lighting, granite curbing, sidewalks, and landscaping.
Giuliano predicted last month that the new station will open in August 2009.
Before construction of the new station can begin, all improvements to the DOT site must be made so that the Westbrook Public Works Department can move out of their Norris Avenue garage, Hill said.
The state expects to start construction in March or April on a new sand/salt shed to replace the one being given to
the town and expects the shed to be completed by October, Hill said.